Figures are good news all round

OLN's brands report in this issue makes for some positive reading, with four of the seven drinks categories in value growth during the past 12 months.

Cider is still the star performer, but Nielsen

figures for the year to January also reveal some good news about wine. After a flat 2006, it's great to see light wine sales up by 6 per cent and sparkling wine up an impressive 8 per cent.

In particular, the growth of non-Champagne sparklers shows consumers are getting more adventurous and no longer think fizz is only for festive occasions.

While fortified wine as a category is still struggling, some of the top 10 brands are in growth - a much rosier picture than in 2006, when all the top fortifieds were in varying stages of decline. Beer's less-than-impressive performance is hardly a surprise, given last year's wet summer, so that set of sales figures should really be filed under "exceptional items".

Ongoing media frenzies on binge drinking - this time round it's the Daily Mirror with its Can It campaign to "stop kids boozing" - are a fact of life these days

and retailers

as well as landlords

will come under increasing media scrutiny.

In this environment, evidence that consumers are trading up and becoming more experimental in what they drink is a vital piece of weaponry in fighting back against those who make damaging assumptions about the drinks trade.

Life after S&N

It looks like we'll be saying goodbye to S&N before the summer starts. The brewery's chief executive, John Dunsmore, has indicated the deal may go through by April. Heineken - which would take control of UK operations - would see its currently small presence in the UK rocket past Coors and InBev. We

would then

find out

its plans

for the brands

acquired. The deal is likely to prompt other, smaller brewers to circle shark-like in the hope of snapping up the likes of John Smith's, for example.

It would be nice to think that the deal will eventually result in lots of innovation and new product development, rather than less choice for UK consumers.

One thing's for certain - there'll be no shortage of beer news over the next year. We'd welcome your views on and insights

into the demise of the UK's largest British-owned brewer, whether you're a retailer, rival or former employee. Drop us a line at